Sunday, January 27, 2008

Palmiers (also known as Elephant Ears)

This is the baking feat I am most proud of. I made these using puff pastry dough that I made from scratch. This recipe came from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook Essentials of Baking that David gave me for Christmas one year. It contains an entire section on pastries. What I really like about this cookbook is that it has step-by-step pictures that help you visualize what to do, especially for a complicated recipe such as this one. There is a section on puff pastry where it includes a master recipe for puff pastry and different recipes that can be made with it. It is a lot of work, but I was so happy with how they came out. Palmiers are sweet but not too sweet and crunchy without being too hard. Definitely delicious! This recipe makes 2 pounds of dough, and you can freeze it for later use. Here's the recipe from Essentials of Baking by Williams-Sonoma:

Master Recipe: Classic Puff Pastry

For the puff dough:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup ice water, or as needed

For the butter package:
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

By hand: In a large bowl, stir together the flours and the salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour and work in with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly. Make a well in the center and pour the ice water into the well. Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the flour from the sides of the bowl until fully incorporated and a rough mass that holds together forms. If the dough does not hold together easily, slowly add additional ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

By stand mixer: In the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 2 cups of the all-purpose flour adn the salt. Pour in the ice water and mix on low speed until a smooth batter forms. Scatter the butter pieces over the surface. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the remaining all-purpose flour and cake flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl about 5 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 15-20 seconds to make sure it is smooth and not sticky. Flatten the dough, shape into a rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to overnight.

To make the butter package, using a rolling pan or the heel of your hand, beat or knead the butter on a work surface to flatten and warm it until it is cool and pliable about 60 degrees. Sprinkle the butter with the flour and gently beat with the rolling pin to press the flour into the butter. Shape the butter into a 6-inch square about 3/4-inch thick. if the butter has become too warm, wrap and refrigerate just until firm but still pliable.

To laminate the dough, on a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch square. Place the butter at a diagonal in the center of the dough. Fold over the corners of the dough to meet in the center, covering the butter completely. Pat with your hands to form an 8-inch square, then turn the square over so the seams are underneath. Roll out into a rectangle 24 inches long by about 8 inches wide, with a short side facing you. Fold the bottom third up, then fold the top third down, as if folding a letter. This is the first turn. Rotate the dough a quarter turn clockwise so that a fold is on your left. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes. Repeat to make 5 more turns, rolling, folding, and chilling the dough each time, for a total of 6 turns. Each time you start, make sure you have a fold on your left. After the final turn, wrap the dough in plastic wrap, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight before shaping.

1 pound Classic Puff Pastry (half of the recipe above)
1 cup sugar for dusting
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Prepare the Puff Pastry and refrigerate to chill as directed.

On a lightly sugared work surface, roll out the pasty dough into a rectangle 1/2 inch thick. Move the pastry to the side and sprinkle the work surface with more sugar.

Return the pastry to the work surface and roll it our into a rectangle 18 inches long, 9 inches wide, and 1/4 inch thick, turning it once or twice as you roll and dusting with more of the sugar.

Position the pastry so that the long side is in front of you. Fold one long end over onto itself halfway across the pastry. Fold the opposite end onto itself halfway across the pastry so that the two ends meet in the center of the rectangle. Sprinkle the pastry with more sugar. roll the pin across the pastry lightly and sprinkle again iwth more sugar. Fold each long side lengthwise again onto itself so they meet in the center of the rectangle, and roll the pin across the pastry lightly.

Using a pastry brush, brush the egg mixture lightly over half of the folded pastry rectangle. You will not use all of the egg mixture. Fold the egg-brushed half over onto the other half of the pastry to form a long, thick rectangle. Roll the pin across the pastry lightly to seal. Place the rectangle on a half-sheet pan, cover with parchment (baking) paper, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 45 minutes.

Position 2 racks evenly in the oven, and preheat to 400 degrees. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment (baking) paper.

Place the pastry ona cutting board and cut crosswise into slices 1/4-inch thick. Dust the work surface with sugar. Lay a cut side of a slice on the sugared surface and then flip it over to coat the other cut side. Place the slices cut side down on the prepared pan, spacing them 2 inches apart.

Bake the cookies until they are caramelized and brown, 13 to 17 minutes, turning once halfway through baking to ensure even caramelization. Transfer to wire racks and let cool completely in the pans. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Baked Louisiana Dirty Rice and Beans

This is another new recipe from Cooking Light that David and I decided to try. The traditional New Orleans version contains chicken livers and gizzards, but this version substitutes chicken thighs. We both loved this dinner. It had just the right amount of spice and the flavors were so good together. I will definitely be making this again. Here's the recipe from the October 2007 issue of Cooking Light:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup uncooked long-grain brown rice
2 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add bell pepper, red onion, and celery to pan; cook 4 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in rice; cook 30 seconds. Add broth and remaining ingredients; bring to a simmer. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

YIELD: 6 servings (serving size: about 1 cup)
250 calories and 6.2 grams fat per serving

Chicken Enchiladas

This is one of our favorite dishes. It's a bit involved for enchiladas, but definitely worth it. David found one night while making this dish that boiling the chicken in the sauce makes it more flavorful, so I make some more sauce just for this purpose. To do this, I usually make another recipe of sauce in another pot and add the chicken to it. Here's the original recipe adapted from Emeril on the Food Network:

3 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon flour

¼ cup chili powder
16 ounces chicken stock

10 ounces tomato puree

1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin

3 cups grated cheddar cheese

2 cups cooked and shredded chicken

10 corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 350.

Make sauce: In a saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons oil; add flour and cook, whisking, 1 minute. Add chili powder and cook 30 seconds. Stir in stock, tomato puree, oregano and cumin and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes until flavors are well-blended. Season to taste with salt.

Combine cheese and chicken for filling. Dip each tortilla in sauce. On a plate fill with a generous spoonful of filling and roll up, place enchilada seam-side down in a baking dish and repeat until all ingredients are used up. Top with remaining sauce. Bake 30 minutes.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

I came to the conclusion that David and I were in a food rut. We always have good dinners, but we were too restricted to the same foods in our rotation. We couldn't think of what we wanted or didn't look for new ideas. I decided that it was time to get out of our rut, so I went through my Cooking Light magazines from the past year and tore out pages of recipes for us to try. We both decided that it was time to try something new. We are going to make it a goal to try as many new recipes as possible. The first new recipe I decided to make was Shrimp Fra Diavolo. According to Cooking Light, "fra diavolo" is Italian for "brother devil." It is a sauce that is usually tomato-based and always spicy. It does not traditionally have mushrooms, but the mushrooms really add to the flavor and texture of the dish. I liked the spiciness of the dish, but if you like really spicy food, you can definitely add more red pepper. David loved this meal and declared it his new favorite shrimp dish. We are big shrimp lovers, so this comment meant a lot to me. I will most definitely make this again. I'm glad our first new dish was a success. Here's the recipe from the October 2007 issue of Cooking Light:

8 ounces uncooked spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups cremini mushrooms (about 10 ounces)- *I used portabello mushrooms
2 1/2 cups marinara sauce (I used my own homemade version)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt (I used kosher salt)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
Parsley sprigs, optional (I added dry parsley to the sauce)

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; keep warm.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms to pan; saute 6 minutes. Add marinara, red pepper, salt, and black pepper (and parsley if you add it here like I did); bring to a simmer. Cook 5 minutes. Add shrimp; cook 3 minutes or until shrimp are done. Serve over pasta. Garnish with parsley sprigs, if desired.

YIELD: 4 servings (serving size is 1 1/4 cups shrimp mixture and 1 cup pasta)
439 calories and 8.5 grams fat per serving

Sunday, January 20, 2008

German Chocolate Cake

I actually made this a while ago (in October) and took a picture of it thinking I might use it in some way. Now that I've created this blog, I can put it to use! German Chocolate Cake is a favorite in my family. My grandfather on my dad's side loved this cake and my mom always brought it to family events. My grandmother on my mom's side made this cake a lot as well. She always used the recipe on the back of the Baker's German Chocolate box, and this is the one my mom used. This cake is very moist and the frosting is wonderfully rich. You can't go wrong!

My parents' birthdays are close together and they came for a visit between their birthdays. Before they came, I told them that they could request any dessert and I would make it so we could celebrate. They both decided that they wanted a German Chocolate Cake, so that's exactly what I decided to make. Traditional German Chocolate Cake does not have frosting on the sides, so I didn't forget to frost it! Here's the recipe for German Chocolate Cake:

4 ounces Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate
1/3 cup boiling water
2 cups sifted cake flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter or margarine
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 eggs, separated
¾ teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup buttermilk
Coconut-Pecan Filling and Frosting

Preheat oven to 350. Line bottoms of 3 (9-inch) round cake pans with wax paper. Mix chocolate and boiling water; stir until chocolate is completely melted. Cool.

Mix flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in chocolate and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating well after each addition.

Beat egg whites in small bowl with electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently stir into batter. Pour evenly into prepared pans.

Bake 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Immediately run a spatula around side between cakes and side of pans. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pans. Remove wax paper. Cool completely on wire racks. Spread Coconut-Pecan Filling and Frosting between layers and over top of cake.

Coconut-Pecan Filling and Frosting

4 egg yolks
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter or margarine
1 (7-ounce) package coconut (about 2 2/3 cups)
1 ½ cups chopped pecans

Beat egg yolks, milk, and vanilla in large saucepan with wire whisk until well blended. Add sugar and butter; cool on medium heat 12 minutes or until thickened and golden brown, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Add coconut and pecans; mix well. Cool to room temperature and of desired spreading consistency.

YIELD: 1 (3-layer) cake

SOURCE: Baker’s Chocolate

Friday, January 11, 2008


Fudge has become my new addiction. I have made so many batches in the past month or so. The first time I made it, I used a recipe from allrecipes (look several posts below), but this time I tried the recipe for "Fantasy Fudge." This is the one you get right from the jar of marshmallow creme. This is the fudge my mom always made, which is also the one my grandmother always made. Of the two recipes, I like this one best. The fudge was so smooth and creamy. It's hard to stop eating it! I will definitely be making this again, and likely soon, because I know I will eat it fast! Here's the recipe:

3 cups sugar

¾ cup butter or margarine

1 small can (5 ounces) evaporated milk (2/3 cup)

1 ½ package (12 squares) semisweet baking chocolate, chopped

1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow crème

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat sugar, butter, and evaporated milk to full rolling boil in 3-quart heavy saucepan on medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil on medium heat until candy thermometer reaches 234, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

**I also used the cold water test. To do this, have a cup of ice-cold water ready, and drop a small amount of the mixture into the cup. If the mixture forms a soft ball, then it is ready. Using both the cold water test and the candy thermometer ensures that the fudge is cooked properly.

Stir in chocolate and marshmallow crème until melted; stir in vanilla and walnuts.

Spread immediately in foil-lined 9-inch square pan. Cool at room temperature at least 4 hours; cut into 1-inch squares. Store in airtight container.

My Birthday Cupcakes!

When I was in elementary school, my mom would always make cupcakes for me to take to school and share with my class at lunch. This year, my 23rd birthday was on a Wednesday, which is when we have dinner with our church group. I decided to make cupcakes to bring just like I used to when I was a kid. I decided to make the cupcake version of Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake. I had heard good things about this recipe, and it did not let me down. The cupcakes were nice and moist and the frosting was rich and creamy. The frosting, as usual, was the best part for me! I also decided to decorate them with sprinkles and add a Hersheys Kiss on top. Here's the recipe from Hershey:

2 cups sugar
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
“Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Frosting

Heat oven to 350. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans. Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Cupcakes: Line muffin cups (2 ½ inches in diameter) with paper liners. Heat oven to 350. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. Makes about 30 cupcakes. **I got 22 cupcakes from the batter**

“Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Frosting

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter or margarine
2/3 cup cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount of additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla.

Makes about 2 cups frosting.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Banana Bread

I've been making this banana bread recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook for many years now. This is the recipes my mom always used. I made a loaf as a Christmas gift this year. A nice thing about this bread is that you can freeze it. I also like to add a bit more bananas than the recipe calls for. I usually add 3 bananas. This makes for an especially moist bread. I also love how this bread cracks at the top while baking. Here's the recipe:

1/3 cup shortening
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 ¾ cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe banana
½ cup chopped walnuts

Cream together shortening and sugar; add eggs and beat well. Sift together dry ingredients; add to creamed mixture alternately with banana, blending well after each addition. Stir in nuts.
Pour into well-greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until done. Remove from pan; cool on wire rack.

Butter and Jam Thumbprints

These cookies are so much fun to make! I love how you can make them different by adding different types of jam. For this batch of cookies, I made about half with strawberry jam and half with peach jam. I've made these cookies before, but I've never found a recipe to stick with. I will definitely be sticking with this recipe though. It's called Butter and Jam Thumbprints, which came from the Food Network. I made these as a Christmas gift and they were a big hit. Next time I make these cookies, I would love to try them with raspberry jam. Here's the recipe:

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine salt
¾ cup unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), softened
2/3 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
1 large egg
½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped from pod, or 1/8 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, or 1
teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup raspberry, cherry, or strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.
In another bowl, whip the butter and the sugar with a hand-held mixer until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla until just combined. Slowly beat in the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing just until incorporated.
Scoop the dough into 1-inch balls with a cookie or ice cream scoop and roll in sugar. Place about 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Press a thumbprint into the center of each ball, about ½-inch deep. Fill each indentation with about ¾ teaspoon jam.
Bake cookies until the edges are golden, about 15 minutes. (For even color, rotate the pans from top to bottom about halfway through baking). Cool cookies on the baking sheets. Serve.
Store cookies in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days.

*I got about 3 dozen cookies from this recipe.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

My grandmother used to make these cookies and so did my mom. I found a similar recipe from Paula Deen's collection and made them this year as a gift. These cookies are so easy to make and look really pretty too. The recipe says to make them into crescents, but I've also rolled them into balls and they turn out the same. Everyone loved these and they were eaten very quickly! I will definitely be making these again. Here's the recipe from Paula Deen:

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for coating baked cookies
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting hands
1 cup pecans, chopped into very small pieces

Preheat the oven to 275. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar at low speed until smooth. Beat in the vanilla. At low speed, gradually add the flour. Mix in the pecans with a spatula. With floured hands, take out about 1 tablespoon of dough and shape into a crescent. Continue to dust hands with flour as you make more cookies. Place onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in additional confectioners’ sugar. Cool on wire racks.

*I got about 3 dozen cookies from this recipe.

Christmas Dessert: Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is a very popular dessert with my family. My mom got this recipe from a friend many years ago and we've been using it ever since. We've never had it at Christmas- it's usually an Easter dessert or made for a birthday or other special event, but my dad requested it for Christmas this year, so I made one. I love this cake because it's so moist. I also love the cream cheese frosting. I don't even bother trying out new carrot cake recipes because I love this one so much! This is also David's favorite cake and he generally requests it for his birthday or anytime we go somewhere where I need to bring something. Here's the recipe:

1 ¼ cups canola oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup black walnuts (optional)
3 cups grated carrots

Mix oil and sugar; add eggs and blend. Sift together dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture. Stir in nuts. Add carrots slowly, blending well. Pour batter evenly into 3 greased and floured pans. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes.

Frosting and Filling:

1 stick margarine
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 box confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts

Mix all ingredients; blend until smooth and creamy. Add a small amount of half-and-half or milk if it is too stiff. Spread between layers and top and sides of cake.